Practice empathy when considering healthcare

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The Effects of the American Health Care Act on Health Insurance Coverage and Federal Spending in 2020 and 2026. by Christine Eibner, Jodi L. Liu, Sarah A. Nowak.

Imagine the most chilling thing you can: A thing that strikes indescribable fear, causing everlasting anguish to those with the misfortune to come against it. Hanging in the back of your mind at all times, whispering apprehensively, “What if something were to happen to you?” Affecting every decision you make, for you know one wrong step could be your last. Eating away at you unless you are able to feed it. This is the United States healthcare system.

Now, when considering the tension between the public and private sectors, there is no better source of conflict than healthcare. While many in the United States look longingly at the healthcare systems of countries like the United Kingdom, others vehemently despise the idea, pushing for the complete privatization of the system.

When considering medicine and healthcare, there is a wealth of literature from every possible viewpoint and lens. Herein lies the problem with talking about healthcare, at least in the United States. It has been made into an issue equal parts economic and ethical. It paradoxically affects us all yet is also a very personalized and specialized problem. The United States somehow has both the best and worst healthcare, depending on who you ask. How, with all of these different perspectives, are we supposed to reach some sort of agreement?

The cynical answer is that we won’t. In the past decade alone, projects like the Affordable Care Act have been created, implemented, beloved, reviled and brought down. Healthcare will rage on as a battle between the Republicans and Democrats, with the pendulum just undulating more violently until it (and the United States system) snaps.

I choose to be more optimistic, though. As healthcare is so personalized, I believe we can change minds by practicing empathy. Sharing stories of the successes and failures of the United States healthcare system can go a long way in figuring out the right path to take.

Now, I could talk here about the groups of people who have it the worst medically: those with chronic illness, those suffering from problems put upon them from birth, those with weaker bodies like the young and old and those with mental illness at a time when the understanding of them is still primitive. Or, I could instead focus on the poor, who suffer the most in our healthcare system. However, while there are a wealth of stories out there that I encourage people to investigate, I don’t think I could do them justice. What I do have expertise on, though, is my own problems, and while I don’t claim them to be anything special or uncommon, I do think they provide another experience that many against healthcare reform are unfamiliar with.

I have spent large portions of my life up to this point without health insurance. While I did visit a pediatrician and all that when I was young, as I progressed through my teenage years, I just sort of stopped going to the doctor. This was mostly fine, as I was healthy and happy enough, but everyone still runs into injury and illness sometimes. In these cases, I would get a huge sense of anxiety, wondering if I should try to just wait out whatever was ailing me or saddle up for a doctor’s visit. I would hide my problems from my mother, not wanting to worry her and incur insurance-less fees. I would try to fix things on my own, to middling success.

Even as recently as last year, I remember trying to go to Student Health Services here, just hoping to get an opinion on something I was worried about. I got to the waiting room and was asked to fill out my insurance information. Feeling unqualified and awkward, I just kind of left after that, not getting a solution to my injury. I remember going to bed that night feeling terrible. Not because I was still hurt, but because I felt like no one cared. Like I wasn’t worth it. I was and still am frustrated endlessly at the entire system for putting me in that situation.

Now, I am much better and in fact do have insurance. Yet, I still feel hesitant to use it, suspicious and ignorant to the consequences from doing so. I realize that this fear is probably not well-founded, but I have had so many bad experiences with the United States healthcare system that I cannot trust it. To this end, I know I am not alone in these experiences. I know that many others still face the same worries I did. And I know that the cause of all of this is nothing but avarice and selfishness. That is why I cannot in good conscience support the privatization in healthcare that has parasitized the system here.


Peter Fenteany is a weekly columnist  for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at peter.fenteany@uconn.edu.

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